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Stepping Out

A tunnel formed by red mangroves provides a channel that is likely used by alligators and perhaps an occasional endangered American crocodile. South Florida is the species’ last redoubt in this country. Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Below the surface, the tangle of red mangrove roots functions as a protective nursery for scores of juvenile fish species, from Goliath groupers to barracudas, as well as a platform of oysters and other shellfish.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel
Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Black mangroves have pneumatophores—“air carrier” in Greek—with an upward-growing root that functions like a snorkel to supply oxygen to the tree in anaerobic soils and at high tide.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Mangroves.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Mangroves.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Mangroves.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Mangroves.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Mangroves.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Mangroves.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

Epiphytes such as bromeliads and orchids flourish on the prop and aerial roots of red mangroves. Just a few inches of elevation define the range between red mangroves, which stand in salt or brackish water, and black mangroves, which flourish on slightly higher, drier ground.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel

A red mangrove in the foreground shows off its prop roots. In the distance, one lone mangrove begins to get established on an oyster bar. Within a decade, the bar will likely be covered by an extensive stand of red mangroves.

Photo: Diane Cook & Len Jenshel